Held in conjunction with the second annual National Agricultural Day, it was the brainchild of the producer advocacy group from central Queensland, Qld Food Future Inc, that was born out of the fight to recognise farmers’ vegetation management credentials, and supported with an Isaac Regional Council community grant.
An indication of the support that abounds for the group’s message of responsible land management that nourishes the world was that seats for the three-course lunch at Red Hide Bar and Grill sold out within two days of being announced.
In the words of instigator, Elisha Parker, she wanted to use food to tell the group’s story, that Queensland’s farmers and graziers were producing some of the most delicious food available, in a landscape that was often portrayed as pillaged and scarified.
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Course after course demonstrated the message of delicious sustainability – cheesy pastizzi made with milk from the CQ Dairy Fresh co-op, a sunflower sprout salad grown by Emerald school student, Digby Dunbar, and mouthwatering rib fillets served up by Comiskey Barley Beef, south of Rockhampton.
Macadamia wafers dripped with honey from Clermont and warm rolls made from the district’s heritage wheat flour sat on side plates.
Lunch guests had a choice of wines from Childers, microbrewery products from Yeppoon, and distilled spirits from Rockhampton.
During the afternoon, despite a power outage, guests viewed the A True Story video that had attracted almost half a million views online, developed by Qld Food Future in response to the state government’s onerous vegetation management laws.
It served as the beginning of a mission to bring the ‘true story’ of agriculture to consumers, and as Elisha explained, was developed during the 2000km road trip she shared with others around Queensland in May to advocate for then-current vegetation laws.
“We feel that elements of the legislation introduced earlier this year are actually detrimental to the land that we manage, particularly with respect to erosion and run-off to the reef,” Ms Parker said.
“It is time to engage with the land managers who are on the ground every day, as there is no conflict between great farming and great environmental outcomes.
“Farmers are building soil, storing carbon and reducing run-off – our soil is our very legacy.”
As well as celebrating their produce and showcasing their message to likeminded growers, the lunch was an opportunity to recruit others for their work of sharing their grassroots agvocacy.
Their 10 days manning a stand in the agricultural pavilion at the Ekka showed Qld Food Futures members the worth of their work and the need to step it up.
Peter Anderson said it had led to invitations to speak at schools outside the Ekka environment.
“That’s the thing we need to do,” he said.
“We’ve lost our identity as a group in the cities, hence the green shirt idea.
“Today’s videos have showed that our problems aren’t unique to Australia: American farmers are fighting perceptions and groups are even starting to sabotage crops in Europe.
“We’ve been invited to the Toowoomba show and are considering others, and we know this program needs to build.
“We were well and truly out of our comfort zone but it’s what we’ve got to do.”
The site provided a meeting place for real-life farmers to interact with thousands of visitors, who were given a packet of seeds to break the ice and provide a starting point for conversations.
“Everyone was so supportive of us,” Andrea Moller said. “What you hear in the media isn’t what people are thinking.”
Her husband Carl said it was probably unlucky that it was such a bad drought year as they were mistaken for people seeking donations, but he said people were still receptive to the vegetation message and surprised to find out the restrictions imposed.
“We went to the city for our industry to speak up about the world-leading farming practices we use to sustainably produce the healthiest food and fibre in the world,” Elisha said.
The group is now offering to share organising tips with other communities interested in mounting their own local food hero lunch for National Ag Day 2019.